Partner with Employees for Forklift Safety

Forklifts are the workhorses of many warehouses, and both employers and forklift operators must do their parts to ensure their safe operation.

The forklift is one of a variety of industrial trucks powered by electric motors or internal combustion engines, and it is probably the most widely used in general industry. Requirements for both employers and drivers of these vehicles are covered in 29 CFR Part 1910.178, Powered Industrial Trucks.

The Employer’s Roles

An article on our sister website,, says that the employer’s initial responsibility is to ensure that the forklifts meet the design and construction requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard.

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Forklifts must also bear an identifying mark indicating approval by a testing laboratory, as well as other clearly legible indications of the vehicles’ capacity, operation, and maintenance instructions. If an employer wants to modify or add to a forklift, and those changes could affect capacity and safe operation, it must not do so without prior written approval from the manufacturer.

Employers must also see to it that forklifts are not used in atmospheres that contain hazardous concentrations of various chemicals and their gases and vapors or dusts such as those from metals and coal/coke.

Other rules establish procedures for fuel handling and storage, changing and charging storage batteries, and the proper lighting of operating areas. The standard also discusses provision of overhead guards and load backrest extensions, and a major section deals with the provision of intensive training, evaluation, and certification for those who will operate the vehicles.

The Driver’s Roles

The training covers both skills and safe practices. Basic reminders of how a forklift works include the facts that it is almost always steered by the rear wheels, is driven in reverse almost as often as in forward gear, steers more easily loaded than empty, and is often steered with one hand while the other operates the controls.

A primary responsibility of the forklift operator is the safety of pedestrians. To ensure pedestrian safety:

  • The vehicle must not be driven up to anyone standing in front of a bench or other fixed object.
  • No one must be allowed to stand or pass under the elevated part of an empty or loaded vehicle.
  • The vehicle must always be operated at a speed that will enable a safe stop; thus, speed should be slowed for wet or slippery floors.
  • The driver must slow down and sound a horn at cross-aisles and other locations where vision is obstructed.
  • Hitchhikers must not be allowed on the vehicle, and horseplay and “stunting” are absolutely taboo.

Loading and moving the load are the basic components of forklift operation. Some prescribed safe practices include:

  • Trucks should be loaded only to their rated capacities­ as indicated on the vehicle. (It’s also important to know the load limits of the flooring that will be driven on.)
  • While traveling, the fork or pallet should be only a few inches (4–6) off the floor, and the load should never be raised or lowered while traveling.
  • The load should be kept in the front on an upgrade and in the back on a downgrade. The operator should make sure the backing-up alarm is working.
  • When parking the truck, the forks should be lowered­, and the truck must not block a doorway, aisle, or emergency equipment.
  • If the operator must leave the truck, the brakes should be set, the controls left in neutral, the power shut off, and the keys removed.
  • When on a ramp or platform on any elevated dock, a safe distance from the edge must be maintained; while loading or unloading, brakes must be set and wheel blocks/chocks used to prevent the movement of the truck.

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Shared Responsibilities

The operator may be assigned some of the tasks involved in refueling and in keeping the forklifts clean and in proper mechanical condition, including checks before and after use on each shift. This will vary from company to company, but safe practices must be established and monitored.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the critical importance of seat belts in forklift operation, and at a painless way to satisfy OSHA’s forklift training requirements.